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On Wed, 14 Mar 2001, Mike Taylor wrote:
> On the related subject of metric vs. imperial, given that we all agree
> (don't we?) that metric _has_ to be The Right Thing, I wonder how many
> more of you share with me a total lack of intuition for what meters
> and kilograms _feel_ like.  That is, if I read that a certain theropod
> is 4m long, I can't form much of a mental picture of it; but once I've
> multiplied by 39/12ths, I'm fine envisaging an animal thirteen feet
> long.  Is it just me?

That intuitive feel actually comes pretty quickly *if* you spend a day
estimating things in metric units and checking every now and then to see
how far off you were, and NEVER converting to English units.  My 7th
grade chemistry teacher used to drill us in this - "How much is a meter?"
he would ask. The correct answer was "It's about this long" while holding
hands up about a meter apart.  If we forgot, we'd go look at a meter
stick. He didn't want us to convert to feet or yards because he knew we'd
never get an intuitive sense for it that way.
  But I was still an English-unit person for a long time, till I did my
first science fieldwork in Alaska 15 years later, where I had to pace off
an enormous grid of 50 x 50 m squares on the tundra, estimate how many
meters a bird was from its nest, then weigh the bird in grams and measure
its wing length in millimeters.  After just a few days of that I got an
EXCELLENT intuitive sense now of how long 50m is, and to this day, when I
want to estimate whether my car is safely 30 feet away from a stop sign, I
have to estimate it in meters and then convert it to feet in my head
(drives my boyfriend crazy).  And I'm hopeless at estimating how many
inches long something is but can nail it in centimeters.
  After working in science for a while, I now strongly prefer metric for
all lengths, distances, volumes and weights. I still prefer English units
for temperature (though I am fluent in Celsius) and height, because of the
finer subdivisions of Fahrenheit degrees & the physiological usefulness of
0F and 100F, and the handiness of 5-foot and 6-foot heights for short &
tall people.
  I also use some less common units, as in "one sparrow weight"
(about 25 g), and "one primary-feather length" (about 70mm), and "one
bag-of-grain weight" (50 lbs), and I have used a currency unit of "one
pizza" since my poor college days.
  Whatever you use every day becomes second nature very fast....

in Seattle, Wash.